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Namasté Mars

27 Sep

On an early Wednesday morning, while most Indians were yet to shake off their slumber, the world woke up to a band of scientists who had quietly achieved what Prime Minister Modi would later describe as a “near impossible” task: India had become the only country to reach Mars in its first attempt at an incredibly low cost of just Rs 450 crore (not even a sixth of Hindustan Unilever’s reportedly astronomical spends on advertising).

It was a Wednesday but Mangal was within sight. And Twitter went crazy. For many of us, tweets spiralling down the timeline told us what mass media could only replicate a little later. But, among the many trending topics and tweets, one stood out: Curiosity, NASA’s counterpart in the race to the Red Planet, was the first to tweet with a greeting, “Namaste, @MarsOrbiter! Congratulations to @ISRO and India’s first interplanetary mission upon achieving Mars orbit.” Forget the fact that it was immediately retweeted along with @ISRO’s cheeky “Howdy @MarsCuriosity ? Keep in touch. I’ll be around”… India’s scientists were finally getting their place in the sun and reveling in it.

BBC News   Mangalyaan  Nasa s Curiosity tweets greeting to India s Mars probe

Tweets from space

But, pause. Look deeper at the paradox of these tweets: an intrinsically Indian entity uses the typical Texan “Howdy” whereas the all-American NASA salutes ISRO with a “Namaste”.

In a society where English is rapidly becoming cool and Hindi uncool, it isn’t just metro students and professionals who have abandoned native languages and adopted English with alacrity, but even blue-collared working classes. Keep your ears open and you’ll hear drivers in your building greet each other with a handshake and “good morning”. Maids will bid the house mistress adieu with a “goodbye” and not the customary Hindi or Bangla term; the latter being the other lingua franca in Gurgaon where the ABCD class is dominated by Bangladeshis with Aadhar cards. (ABCD being Ayahs, Bearers, Cooks, Drivers…add rickshaw-pullers to it too.) When did Namasté become alien? And why?

Again paradoxically, at the very upmarket, and reportedly elitist, Shri Ram School in Gurgaon, however, the default greeting is not “Good Morning” but “Namasté” among students and teachers, parents and teachers et al. No handshakes but the traditional folded hand and a slight bow that expresses the meaning of the word at its very best in a school that enshrines Indian culture and has been consistently ranked as the best in the country.

Etymologically, “Namasté” is a sandhi of the Sanskrit ‘namah’ and ‘te’. ‘Namah’ means ‘bow’ or ‘obeisance’ or ‘a reverential salutation’ or ‘adoration’ and ‘te’ means ‘to you’. Therefore, ‘Namas te’ literally means ‘bowing to you’. The word is naturally spoken with a slight bow and with hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing up, thumbs close to the chest in a gesture is called AñjaliMudrā or Pranamasana. In Hindu scriptures, it means “I bow to the divine in you.”

Namasté (or Namaskar) is used as a greeting usually acknowledging and welcoming a relative, guest or stranger with very high respect.

So, when NASA tweeted “Namaste” (sic…without the accent in é) was it unknowingly paying tribute to the higher order that is now India? Think about it while you bask in the reflected glory of Mangalyaan.

Namasté ISRO. Namasté Mars.


Law of MPs

5 Jun

Mohitoz’ Law #268

Newly-elected MPs who take the oath in Parliament will soon start swearing.

A Collision of Contradictions

1 Jan

There is a strange collision of contradictions happening around us.

For, perhaps the first time since 1947, urban India is resurrecting hope from the ashes of fear. The candle is in transition from being synonymous with power cuts to romantic dinners to silent, tearful protests. Young India is coming of age, they say. From vacuousness to vigilance.

We’re seeing the death of an unnamed young woman give life to a second freedom movement that has engulfed even the most sceptic Indian. Suddenly, ‘rape’ is not just a shameful, four-letter word that tears apart lives; it is the very vocal rallying cry for all of society.

In this paradoxical point in time, parents who had hoped a child named Ram Singh would live up to the name of the god he had been given, cannot fathom how he chose, instead, to do just the opposite. He became a Ravana. There are two significant moments in the naming of a newborn: first, when his name is thought of and, then, when he is actually named – all in the illusionary hope that he will be what is called.

And there are two defining moments when a life is lost: first, when Death punctuates existence with the finality of a full-stop; and then when the physical remains are consigned to flames. Another set of parents, who had named and reared so lovingly their child, watch in disbelief how she goes out of this world and makes it to every conceivable form of media that exists: she is both famous and unknown. Unprecedented but true.

There are policemen, often corrupted and corpulent, but now driven to action and accountability. Once feared and interrogative, they are now faced with questions that will change their future – for they are seeing power slip out of their hands. When you take away their batons, tear gas, barricades and water cannons, you will see dread on their bewildered faces: the uniform is just a mask and the façade is now exposed. Strange, it is, that a political party once at the forefront of the non-violence freedom movement had its back to the Lutyens’ walls of Delhi, armed against its own electorate. Such is the dilemma of democracy. And such is the demonstrably galvanising power of truly social media.

And, finally, the men who plundered her await their own – almost certain – death. Men who, like beasts, ripped apart a loving couple with the brutality of drunken lust. And whose fall into instant insanity will now lead to prolonged legal logic as an inevitable drama plays itself out.

So many contradictions created in just a couple of weeks. So many years of frustration manifested into fury.

But, amidst all the questions that remain unanswered, of this one is certain: the second sex will now be the first.

Be not proud, Death. For, you gave birth to Nirbhaya. 




“Sexy hogi toh…”

8 May

A college student gets off her father’s car and walks purposefully towards the Metro station, blissfully unaware that every auto driver standing alongside has turned to give her the once over. Her father can only grimace from a distance and pray that his daughter will return home unscathed.

A young lady waits outside a market, talking on her phone. Two policemen gawk at her unmindful of the chaos behind them as a motorcyclist hits a rickshaw. She knows she is being watched but can do nothing to avoid the stare of the very men who are meant to protect her.

Not too far away, three female friends emerge from a pub and are ogled at by every man in the mall – from the security guard to the parking attendant.

None of this is new. None of this is initiated by the clothes the women wear. None of it is restricted to just one city.

But all of it happens.

And it was brought to life outside the South Extension Market in Delhi last Saturday. I was waiting, impatient as usual, for the driver of a car to reverse his way out of an anarchic parking lot when a phrase caught my ear: “Sexy hogi toh nahin chalegi…”

That’s right. A male voice saying “if she’s sexy, then she won’t do.” I whipped around to see a stud in his late 20s, leaning against a car, drawling into a cell-phone. He would have been a driver or another blue-collar worker but was oozing arrogance in his attitude. For all I know, he must have willingly suspended disbelief while watching Vidya or Vicky and then connected their two recent hits in a warped way.

And he continued: “…agar khandan badhane wali hogi, ghar sambhalne wali hogi toh batana.” That is, “if she can carry forward the family (bear children) and manage the house, then tell me.”

You don’t have to be Sherlock to figure out that he was discussing a matrimonial relationship – either for himself or someone close to him (a brother perhaps). I was too stunned by his words to even take a photograph and couldn’t hang around to hear the rest of his conversation but, clearly, he epitomised the kind of man who would lust after a lady in public and then demand a demure, ghoonghat-covered wife in private.

Janus? Or just your average Indian male?

I still can’t get over that “sexy hogi toh nahin chalegi…”!

First Law of Rajnikant

1 Nov

Mohitoz’ Law #266

Rajnikant will henceforth be known as Rajnican.

Fourth Law of Gurgaon

15 Sep

Mohitoz’ Law #263

Commuters will have to battle it out on Gurgaon’s roads because the city is named after Guru Dronacharya of Mahabharat fame.

Law of Price Hikes

25 Jun

Mohitoz’ Law #262

A fuel price hike will happen on the day your tank is running low.